London day trip: History and entertainment at Warwick Castle
England is full of tourist attractions of broad interest within day trip distance from London, and there are countless excellent destinations to explore. Warwick Castle, located in the town of Warwick just a stone’s throw from Birmingham, is among these. Located only 90 minutes from London by train, Warwick Castle combines dizzying histories and tactile entertainment.
Warwick Castle: A family attraction with a real history
Operated by British visitor attractions giant Merlin Entertainments, Warwick Castle is a family attraction writ large: an extensively renovated castle complex, mostly built in the 14th Century. Unlike Windsor Castle, Warwick Castle was never rebuilt from scratch. For this reason, it’s quite easy to relate to historical eras and architectural details.
On my February visit, I started at The Mound, built in 1068 on the orders of William the Conqueror and the oldest component of the castle. Once the most important node in the castle’s defense system, it was long superceded by other elements of the complex. Today, it’s a great place to view the surrounding countryside in its dozens of hues of green after our long, soggy winter.
This is no undiscovered pile of ruins in the countryside, plainly. But while Warwick Castle is slick and entertaining, it’s not soulless. The castle’s focus on entertaining guests is given heft by an organizing commitment to be faithful to history. Accordingly, daily performances are linked to actual events—scheduled duel performances, for example, reenact historically verified sword battles and are not drawn from the figment of a marketer’s imagination.
Warwick Castle’s long-term owners, the Greville Family, sold the castle to the Tussauds Group in 1978; it was later purchased by Merlin Entertainments. This link yields a certain theatricality to some of Warwick Castle’s exhibits, in particular those depicting a weekend party in 1898 held by Frances Greville, Countess of Warwick. I have to admit that the careful deployment of waxworks among artifacts and props throughout the rooms tied to this exhibit is quite well done.
Happy 1,100th birthday!
2014 is an especially good time to visit Warwick Castle. Two big birthday celebrations will kick off in April. The castle will celebrate its 1,100th birthday with all new shows, while the town of Warwick toasts their big anniversary with festivals, fairs and a St. George’s Day Celebration on April 19.
Ways to save on admission
Entry is not, on the face of it, mega cheap, but there are some ways to save. Adults pay £25.80 to enter the castle; kids are charged at £21.60 apiece for the castle. Visitors can save money buy purchasing tickets ahead of time. Advance tickets are less expensive than tickets purchased on the day of visit itself. There are discounts of up to 10 percent on tickets purchased between 2 and 6 days in advance of visit; discounts expand up to 20 percent on tickets purchased at least one week prior to visit.
Advance fares from London’s Marylebone Station to Warwick on Chiltern Railways cost £15.
Here’s a tip: arrive in the morning. By early afternoon the castle often gets crowded, especially in the summer.